the shema refers to one of the most famous lines in the torah: “hear o israel, the lord our god, the lord is one.” deuteronomy 6:4.
one particular utterance of the shema is cemented in history. rabbi akiva, who lived under roman occupation, openly defied their prohibition of teaching the torah. as a result, he was tortured to death. while being raked with iron combs, he recited the shema.
phrases send messages. rabbi akiva’s certainly did. the shema recited daily becomes part of daily life. during services, congregations raise their voices when sung. some spirit or ruach is elevated in the room.
another type of messaging of a faith is happening in the united states. we see the phrase used “i can’t be anti-semitic because i am semitic.” this phrase expands upon a shorter phrase. “i am semitic.” these words are now being used for african americans who are expressing their roots to the israelites.
thus, when a public figure or celebrity expresses “i am semitic,” it is a coming out party to the world. it is an expression that are part of the community that embraced this identity based faith.
in essense, these statements must be appreciated as far as their meaning. one can argue that the adl, aka anti-defamation league, is doing a tremendous disservice in the handling of recent matters. their actions made martyrs to the faith. social media and youtube are now filled with discussions about their oppressive acts. many are upset that individuals can be punished by expressing their faith.
in contrast, groups like the adl have not made any social media inroads to address the explosion of content on the topic. the reality is that they are unfit to do so. the reason is that matters of faith must be addressed within the arena of faith.
some of the issues that need to be addressed date back to controversies from thousands of years ago. there is the tension between rabbinic judaism and non-rabbinic judaism. for example, the beta israel from ethiopia practiced a form a judaism that was without the talmud. rather than rabbis, they have priests. irrespective of these differences, great religious leaders, such as rabbi ovadia, were able to see the greater picture of judaism. he famously made a jewish law decision that the beta israel were to be considered jews. this assisted with beta israel’s immigration to israel.
in the united states, when i met people who practice various forms of faith, i make assumptions as to their conduct. i feel good when around faiths which follow the ten commandments. with the ten commandments, we are on the page with many issues. the belief in a higher authority, the respect for the family, the respect for neighbors, workers, strangers, and animals.
thus, when we look at the hebrew israelite faith, we see those who believe that they are the real jews and that jews are the fake jews. with this philosophy, what does this mean for the “fake jews?” what is to be done by this assertion? if so-called fake people adhere to the ten commandments which were given to the hebrews at mt. sinai, should that not be considered something worthy of respect?
in sum, answers to difficult questions take time, effort and dialogue. the exodus has always been known to be an event upon which individuals are intended to experience as if they were there during that miraculous time. is it possible that all people can experience it together?